April 23rd, 2024

Union caught off-guard by police plan

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on March 16, 2024.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

The union representing Alberta Sheriffs was caught blind-sided by the announcement on Wednesday that the Alberta government was creating a new policing agency.

Bobbi-Jo Borodey, vice president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, says the union doesn’t know what kind of impact it will have on the Sheriffs, including on their roles, financial compensation and how many will be moved to the new agency.

The union says the province didn’t consult with it before announcing the legislation.

“It was not something that we knew was coming. We did get about 30 minutes advance notice but that was it,” said Borodey in a phone interview from Edmonton.

The union VP said even though the RCMP still has a contract and that the UCP says it will remain the provincial police force, she wants to believe it won’t be replaced but “I essentially don’t believe anything they say.

“I think that this Bill 11 is a framework to replace the RCMP and move forward with an Alberta police force but it’s not the way it’s being presented right now,” said Borodey.

The union has no information except what’s contained in the bill itself. Members “are asking what does this mean and we don’t have answers for them at this time. . . they have had additional responsibilities added over the last couple of years,” said Borodey, including pilot projects in downtown Edmonton, one that had sheriffs involved in breaking up homeless camps.

“And of course, our fish and wildlife officers were given RCMP-like duties under the RAPID program.”

The Rural Alberta Police Integrated Defence Response was established by the Alberta government to expand the authority of peace officers in the Sheriffs department to help fight rural crime and lower response times.

Both sheriff highway patrol programs and fish and wildlife officers started their RAPID response functions in 2021.

Some of those fish and wildlife officers have been tasked with providing RCMP duties in rural parts of Alberta, said Borodey, a matter the union had to negotiate with the province. The biggest challenge of that was negotiating bigger pay for bigger responsibilities, she said.

The sheriffs aren’t presently being adequately compensated for the work they do, said Borodey.

“There’s a significant wage gap and that’s been a point of contention. We are in bargaining with the government right now and this was one of the key areas we were planning to address during this round of negotiation. So we aren’t 100 per cent sure how this announcement will impact this round of bargaining but it doesn’t negate the fact our sheriffs are inadequately compensated for work they are doing right now,” said Borodey.

“That is actually the biggest concern we have is that if there’s this job change, an increase of responsibilities which is what we’re taking it to mean, will the compensation be adequate? Will it cover the work that they’re doing currently and any additional work that may come out because of this decision?”

Sheriffs are paid considerably less than police officers, the union VP noted.

Sheriffs work alongside police, especially those involved in the pilot project.

The union represents about 800 people in the Sheriffs department. Fish and Wildlife officers are at times lumped into those numbers, as well.

If sheriffs are morphed into a police force, members also want to know if they’ll need more training or qualifications to keep their jobs, questions which are among those Borodey says members have.

“We will ask for that information. When we will get it, we’re not certain.”

The uncertainty adds more stress more stress to what is already a stressful job, Borodey said.

“The additional responsibilities they have been picking up are because there is a lack of actual bodies to do the work in this province in every field including law enforcement. You’re already dealing with that so one of our other questions is ‘what’s your recruitment plan? Where do you anticipate getting these additional bodies to fulfill these roles? Are you only using the complement of sheriffs, are you looking to add to that?'”

The Alberta Municipalities organization in a Friday statement said it supports any initiative that will make Albertans feel safer but “Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing if Bill 11 will do this. We have lots of questions. What will this agency that provides “police-like” services cost? How will it be governed? What will be its mandate?

“Our association is concerned about the provincial government’s tendency to avoid consultation and engagement. We ask that ABmunis be informed and consulted from this point onwards on this vitally important issue. Much greater collaboration between the two orders of government is needed.”

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